About 80 participants from government, local and national civil society organizations and academics gathered on 12 July 2019 in Tunis (Tunisia) for a public event on the theme “the role of Tunisia in the challenge of preserving Mediterranean wetlands”. The event was organized by the General Directorate of Forests (DGF) of Tunisia, the Mediterranean Wetlands Initiative (MedWet), WWF North Africa, and the Mediterranean Wetlands Observatory (MWO).
In his opening address, the Director General of Forestry, Mr Salem TRIGUI, indicated that since Tunisia’s accession to the Ramsar Convention, 940 wetland sites have been identified, 41 of which are presently classified as Wetlands of International Importance. He highlighted the richness of these ecosystems in terms of biodiversity and their importance for birds.
According to Mr. TRIGUI, wetlands are receiving special attention and increasing protection in Tunisia, given their role as fundamental elements of water management and their involvement in flood protection, environmental and coastal protection. He expressed concern, however, about the enormous pressures and numerous attacks on wetlands in Tunisia that could affect their functioning, such as pollution, uncontrolled landfills, urban sprawl and uncontrolled construction, overexploitation of fisheries resources, illegal hunting, etc.
In this context, he mentioned that the new National Wetland Strategy, currently being developed, pays particular attention to the situation of those ecosystems, their protection, sustainable management and wise use through, in particular, the improvement of knowledge and inventories, the fight against degradation problems, the removal of management constraints, and the improvement of the institutional framework.
In her presentation of the results of the report “Mediterranean Wetlands Outlook 2: Solutions for Sustainable Mediterranean Wetlands (MWO2)“, Ms Ilse GEIJZENDORFFER, Coordinator of the Mediterranean Wetlands Observatory, warned that 48% of wetlands in the Mediterranean basin have disappeared since 1970. They continue to be destroyed, degraded and transformed for other uses, such as industry, tourism, urbanization, agriculture, etc. This development undermines human well-being through the loss of the multiple benefits provided by wetlands.
“Ensuring and supporting the effective conservation of the functions and values of Mediterranean wetlands and the sustainable use of their resources and services” is the mission of the MedWet Initiative, according to its coordinator, Mr Alessio SATTA, who presented the fundamentals of MedWet and its projects, implemented for the conservation of Mediterranean wetlands, including the Network of Mediterranean Ramsar Site Managers (MerSIM-Net). This new network aims to foster the best management practices, knowledge exchange, and public education about wetland values and services. MeRSiM-Net contributes to achieving the objectives of the Ramsar Convention to establish and maintain comprehensive, effectively managed, and ecologically representative national and regional systems of Wetlands of International Importance. These systems collectively, inter alia through regional networks, contribute to achieving the conservation and wise use of wetland ecosystems. This should significantly reduce the current rate of wetland loss at the global, regional, national and sub-national levels – a development that will represent a significant contribution to achieving, by 2030, the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
MedWet encourages and supports governments to adopt policies and implement actions on the ground in favour of the conservation and the sustainable use of Mediterranean wetlands, and Mr. SATTA also presented the MedWet Framework for Action 2016-2030. It should be noted that the targets of the Framework are correlated with different axes of the National Wetland Strategy of Tunisia in the areas of the inclusion of new wetlands in the Ramsar List, the development and implementation of pilot restoration projects in degraded wetlands, and the integration of good practices for water management and wetland conservation into the national land use plans and policies in order to avoid damages to wetland functions and values.
The development of this National Wetland Strategy will enable the country to implement Contracting Parties’ recommendations to the Ramsar Convention, according to Ms Hela GUIDARA, from the General Directorate for Forests, Chair of MedWet and National Focal Point of the Ramsar Convention in Tunisia. This strategy stems from the desire of the Tunisian authorities to ensure the conservation of these areas while allowing them to be developed in such a way that they can also contribute to the economic and social development of the country and the local populations living around them in the context of sustainable and equitable development.
It is clear that the development and implementation of wetland-related strategies require basic knowledge of these ecosystems (e. g., location, delimitation, state of conservation, etc.). The lack of reliable data and information on a country’s wetlands is one of the major handicaps for the implementation of measures to conserve and enhance these ecosystems.
It is therefore important to establish a comprehensive and up-to-date inventory of the main wetlands in Tunisia, using, as far as possible, standard methodological approaches that are consistent with the Ramsar Convention framework. The data collected should make it possible to locate, delimit and characterize Tunisian wetlands and establish a baseline for future conservation, enhancement and restoration programmes.
In this context, Mr. Anis GUELMAMI, project manager at the Tour du Valat, assured that the Mediterranean Wetlands Observatory will provide its full support to the Tunisian authorities for the realization of a new national wetland inventory, based essentially on Earth Observation tools. Indeed, following the projects of GlobWetland-II (2010-2014), GlobWetland-Africa (2015-2018) and SWOS (2015-2018), new innovative approaches have been developed and tested (including on Tunisian sites and catchments) and the objective would then be to better integrate them into future programmes and projects to update the national wetland inventory in Tunisia. In addition, thanks to these new methods, the wetland mapping information provided will make it possible to better inform certain indicators related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular 6.6.1 (monitoring of water-related ecosystems).
Ms Imen RAIS, WWF North Africa, for her part, presented the Ghar el Melh Lagoon and the Mejerda Delta and the key steps in establishing an integrated resource management model in Ghar el Melh that enables both natural heritage conservation and sustainable development. She also highlighted the role played by WWF North Africa, together with international organizations such as the MedWet Initiative, in promoting the lagoon located in Ghar El Melh, the first Arab and North African “Wetland City” under the Ramsar Convention. “We are currently working to promote sustainable tourism activities around the Ghar El Melh lagoon and to limit the pressure on this coast, which is heavily frequented in the summer“, said Ms RAIS.
After the interventions were completed, the discussion was started in which the public participated intensively with questions and comments. The discussion focused mainly on the two areas: the National Wetland Strategy and the importance of establishing a national inventory.
Download the Press Release of the event.